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Lineup in 42nd District race may include new faces

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By Timothy Puko
Monday, Nov. 26, 2012
 

Local officials and fresh faces could be the main competitors to fill an open state House seat in the South Hills, because several higher-profile candidates said they don't plan to run.

Former Mt. Lebanon Commissioner Dan L. Miller confirmed he will seek the Democratic nomination for the 42nd District seat about to be vacated by Matt Smith, D-Mt. Lebanon.

Miller is the only Democrat to express interest so far, Allegheny County Democratic leaders said.

Smith won a special election this month, beating Republican D. Raja for the 37th state Senate seat vacated by John Pippy, a Republican.

Republicans will likely need to recruit newcomers, because several in office and campaign veterans are declining to run, party members said.

“I'm sure next week will bring a lot more interest,” said Nancy Patton Mills, chairwoman of the Allegheny County Democrats.

Two of 2011's unsuccessful candidates for county chief executive, Democrat Mark Patrick Flaherty and Republican D. Raja, said they won't run.

Flaherty said he's supporting Miller. Raja declined further comment.

County Councilman Vince Gastgeb won't run either, saying he wants to keep his new post as a Pennsylvania Securities Commission member and has family considerations.

“I think the seat's winnable now (for Republicans) and even in two years, but not from the names we're seeing,” Gastgeb, R-Bethel Park, said. “We've got to get away from people who've lost multiple elections.”

Smith has been a member of the House since 2006. He plans to resign Nov. 30, meaning party leaders might select their nominees within about two weeks. The speaker of the House will decide whether the 42nd District seat will be filled in a standalone election or on the day of the 2013 primary.

The key-shaped district stretches from Thornburg through the South Hills into Bethel Park. It includes Green Tree and Mt. Lebanon, where a strong Democratic party helps the district's electorate lean slightly left, experts said.

Republicans are having trouble finding good candidates, said Matt Kluck, a Republican Mt. Lebanon commissioner whose first term ends next year. He said he doesn't plan to run again.

Republicans “need to do a better job of vetting their candidates and promoting a platform that can win,” Kluck said. “I've seen too many things on television to discourage me from pursing (the House seat) at that time. If you're going to run a fine upstanding campaign without slanderous remarks, you're not going to win.”

Republicans should have hope of retaining the Senate seat, because nearly 48 percent of the district's voters supported Mitt Romney for president, said GOP consultant Mark Harris of Mt. Lebanon, managing partner of Cold Spark Media.

Some potential candidates might be dissuaded by redistricting in two years, which could add city neighborhoods to the district and consolidate it around Mt. Lebanon, making it more Democratic, Harris and others said.

Each party will pick a nominee for the election. Democrats probably will choose within about a week of Smith's formal resignation, said Grant Gittlen, executive director of the Allegheny County Democratic Committee.

Miller, 39, a lawyer, assistant county solicitor and local volunteer firefighter, touted a record of fiscal restraint that still included spending on worthwhile projects during his one term as municipal commissioner. He did not seek re-election in 2011.

“Service is part of my background, and I believe this is a step, a chance here to offer the same kind of hardworking effort,” he said. “I do think it's important to watch your bottom line, but I think it's also important to realize that time does not stand still.”

Timothy Puko is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7991 or tpuko@tribweb.com.

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